Fake News: Shut Up And Listen

You probably looked at the headline on this column and said to yourself, "Oh Christ, not another story on fake news?!?!"

The primary debate seems to revolve around who is responsible for making sure fake news is not widely disseminated.

Facebook, as the biggest media distribution system perhaps in all of history, doesn't want to get in the "censorship" business (and besides, it’s only a tech company, right?).  

As a self-styled satirist, I have an intimate relationship with fake news. For example, years ago, at the dawn of the social media age, I wrote a fake news story about a guy who was so busy responding to online forums that he starved to death. The MediaPost column was picked up by other sites, with comments from readers who thought it all "tragic." Clearly, many pass-along readers missed the satire.

Publishers Daily Editor Erik Sass wants to shift the burden of responsibility to the individual, writing, "if large numbers of Americans readily believe false news content because they fail to perform the basic due diligence of an informed news consumer, then the issue is the individual’s intelligence and judgment. Readers should check the source of information or look for confirmation of sensational claims in other sources."



To which reader Benny Thomas from Crispin Porter +Bogusky responded:  "Unfortunately, our biases are stronger than our rational intelligence and no one has the time to fact-check." (Since I failed to "perform the basic due diligence of an informed news consumer," I can't be sure it was really Benny Thomas or if he REALLY works at Crispin Porter+Bogusky, which may not exist at all, in spite of its catchy name).

Many years ago, I argued that consumers would eventually revert to known (branded, if you will) news properties because they had built a legacy of trust over many decades. But that was before social media became the primary source of news for an astonishing number of Americans who apparently find credibility in crap they find in their feeds without bothering, as the alleged Benny Thomas wrote, "to fact-check."

To add to the merriment, when you hold up the New York Times as a source for credible news, you get pushback from those who believe the liberal bias of the paper is reflected in its choice and handling of stories. After all, didn't the outcome of the election simply prove that the Great, Eastern, Monied Establishment Press are really extensions of the liberal democracy agenda? Which, by the way, seems to be tanking around the globe.

Meanwhile, Not My President's tweets are more evidence that you can't trust anything you read on or offline — especially, and sadly, anything from him.

My recommendation? Stay flexible. Do not corner yourself with an ideology that may prove to have an underlying agenda that will have you spouting erroneous facts and figures that are neither factual nor accurate.

Don't rely on a single source for your news, either. Each day I read three newspapers, and watch three different TV news programs — at least — plus read a ton of stories online stories, mostly from trusted sources like ProPublica (donate to them right this minute!!) the AP, Reuters, BBC, etc.  

And read history. It gives you perspective.

Finally, shut up and listen to others. Value what they have to say even though you may not agree with them. Try to understand where they are coming from and how they got there.  

People are complex thinkers and although they at first may sound like fascists or bleeding hearts, gently probe — and you might learn something that will challenge your own biases. Allow them to think differently, even if you are convinced they are delusional. It is not your job to change what others think.

And when presenting diametrically opposed POVs, do so knowing that you may not be heard.

Then again, if you have raised teenagers, none of this will be new to you.

11 comments about "Fake News: Shut Up And Listen".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, December 2, 2016 at 10:25 a.m.

    Bill Moyers link hit this hard today --

    and agree, but one really strong negative reaction to the following point: everyone's too busy to take the time to debunk. Bullspit. We make time for reality TV and sports and handheld games and selfies and more, more, more, all while using time-saving tech on a host of things that our elders did. We're not too busy; we're too inefficient, lazy, and judgmental... err, maybe I've said too much.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 2, 2016 at 11:29 a.m.

    Very true DM. There is proof upon proof that too many people do not have enough to do.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, December 2, 2016 at 1:50 p.m.

    It comes with source credibility. If I read something on Infowars that is soundly debunked in hours, then I'm unlikely to ever trust them again, or soon. Breitbart's credibility has gone up and down over time. Sometimes the only way to get information that competes with the Eastern elite news editors is to read British tabloids.  Back in the 1990s, only one source ran firmly with the Monica Lewinsky story and now the Drudge Report is wildly popular, even though it occasionally links to Infowars. The solution is never to simply trust only the New York Times because they have a habit of burying or ignoring stories that don't fit their politics. But my original point is the same: Learn whom to trust over time and don't let anyone apply labels that subjugate your best judgment.

  4. Linda Moskal from WNPV Radio, December 2, 2016 at 3:15 p.m.

    And, I guess, after this past election, beginning an interesting article with blasphemy is acceptable but I can tell you that many of my listeners would not read beyond that line!  It wasn't necessary to the story so it shouldn't have been used.  

  5. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, December 2, 2016 at 4:22 p.m.

    George, nice comment on fake stories.  Speaking of which, are you the same George Simpson that had been abducted by space aliens? Satire question, LMAO.

  6. Chuck Lantz from, network, December 2, 2016 at 7:04 p.m.

    "It is not your job to change what others think"   On the contrary, it IS our job to change what others think, especially if what they are thinking - or not thinking - can harm, or improve, ourselves or others.  That's why cars have horns and why people have vocal cords, and computers have keyboards, and on and on.  If you see a five-year old, who thinks it's a good idea to try to cross a busy street, it damn well is your job to change what that kid is thinking.  

    Aside from all that, isn't this site devoted, through media and advertising, to doing exactly that; ... changing, or attempting to change, how people think?  

    To move this a bit closer to the subject at hand, I am firmly convinced that anyone with the intelligence to know that 2+2 does not equal 5 should never stand silent when others are trying to pass that misinformation on to others.  

    This is especially true on social media, where far too often flat-out lies are told and retold, with no intervention or dissenting voices of reason who, at the very least, show those silently reading the lies that the falsehoods are not universally accepted as fact.  

    One example is the reference to Drudge posted by another here. Drudge is not now, nor has it ever been a "source."  It has always been a link farm. Drudge carefully selects links to the words of others, always with a heavy bend to the far right. Drudge has never produced a single news item, nor edited for accuracy the items it links from others, unless you call tweaking and twisting the header until it often totally contradicts the story itself, and serves the alt-right agenda "editing." 

    But then again, it's "wildly popular", so it must be real news, right?  Just like a Big Mac must be extremely healthy, since it's so wildly popular. 

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, December 2, 2016 at 7:18 p.m.

    Yeah, let them put tobacco in their pipes and smoke it, then cure cancer with smoking cigarettes.

  8. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, December 2, 2016 at 10:24 p.m.

    Chuck: I could not agree more with trying to right wrongs, but all the idiological wrongs in the world didn't keep 60 million people from voting for an idiot for President. Clearly reason isn't always the way.

  9. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications replied, December 3, 2016 at 10:05 a.m.

    Linda: if your audience thinks that Christ! Is an, um, unforgivable, blasphemy, then this is probably not the right column for them - ever. Might want to do a seach for my column where I recommended that the NCAA sanction Tim Tebow for having biblical phrases on his cheeks.

  10. Alvin Silk from Harvard Business School, December 3, 2016 at 3:22 p.m.

    Reading your desperate column, I am reminded of the opening sentene of Professor Harry G. Franfurt's famous essay: "One of the most salient features of your culture is that there is so much bullshit." See: On Bullshit. Princeton Universit Press, 2005, p.1.

  11. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, December 3, 2016 at 4:37 p.m.

    Alvin, thanks for your comments.  it is not entirely clear to me why you think  this column is in any way "desparate" but I acknowledge that your affiliation with HBS gives you deep familiarity with bullshit

Next story loading loading..